Fisher-Price Assassin’s Creed
At first glance, this is a new low for Ubisoft. Inspired by a bug the developers hit during development of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (?!), the whole thing is a reskin; the horse, eagle, gameplay, setting, design – it’s like playing Odyssey through a cartoon TikTok filter. It’s even voiced by the Odyssey cast. It’s being passed off as a Triple-A priced franchise title too, how is this not a budget spin-off like Blood Dragon?! I’m so outraged I can’t wait to play it…
After Typhon escapes the Underworld and imprisons the Olympian gods, Zeus seeks help from Prometheus, who offers to use his foresight and tell the story of Fenyx, a mortal looking to save her brother after Typhon’s actions turned him to stone. Not believing a mortal can beat Typhon, Zeus agrees to a wager - if convinced Fenyx is their only hope, he will release Prometheus who is still chained to a rock and missing a liver... And so, begins our story.
I really expected to loathe this as a cash-in kiddie remake of Odyssey, and at times it does get a little too twee, but what saves it is Prometheus’ ponderous narration, which Zeus constantly interrupts or alters to make it more entertaining – and harder for Fenyx (or more bizarre). We’ve seen this before, such as Call of Juarez Gunslinger and Borderlands 2’s Assault on Dragon Keep where the unreliable narrator throws stuff at us, but it really works here with two narrators arguing and influencing the events, as Zeus tries to excuse his petulance as a God and rewrite history, and Prometheus maintaining a subtly insulting narrative aimed at the Pantheon’s pettiness. An early zinger, “Didn’t I turn her into a lion?” / “You turned a lot of people into a lot of things” / “Yeah, I need to stop drinking” sets the tone.
The rest of the tone is light and fun, and eventually I get won over by it. It never steps outside of Odyssey’s shadow, but it does eventually find its own way, especially in the power-ups and RPG experience. It is its own story, even if it feels like a rejected part of the Fate of Atlantis DLC. With bubbles, bright colours, playful sound effects, gems awarded, no blood and caricature leads making it feel like some kids’ cartoon based on Odyssey it should grate, but for the most part it’s just an easy-going game with a charm to it. I’m liking this.
In keeping with Odyssey (and Ubisoft’s love for reskinning and incestuous/cost saving sharing between franchises), we gain bird and horse companions and meet various legends from the Pantheon, who we free or fight, and there’s a fair amount of side quests, distractions, Typhon’s minions and other legends to battle while we reclaim areas like in Far Cry, plunder treasure and do platform or puzzle-based challenges which award upgrades, powers, weapons or items. There's a lot of distractions.
Fenyx starts with limited stamina, which drains quickly and adds a level of anxiety as she can get exhausted, leading you to be tactical about how you approach areas. Even just hanging off walls or treading water drains it, and fights can’t be won by endlessly hacking. She has three weapons, a sword for quick hacking, an axe for power slashing and a bow with respawning arrows, all of which can be swapped out and improved via crafting, and her skill-tree lets you build the usual improvements - but she also gains powers from helping the Gods, building her into a demi-god worthy of mention by Homer. The creatures we face are strictly pre-school in look, but Immortals has also carried over Odyssey’s satisfyingly scrappy fight sequences and stand offs. We even get sneak attacks and some solid power moves.
And Fenyx herself is fun to be around. Plucky, confused, and often not taking it seriously, she’s on the adventure of a lifetime and looking to prove herself a hero. It’s a bit odd playing someone who acts about ten years old, but her ways of opening treasure chests – from slapping it to dropping the People’s Elbow - and her reactions to the increasingly weird events work really well to keep you in the just-for-laughs mood.
It’s all good fun but you never shake the feeling that this is some jokey mod for Odyssey. And it’s oversized - if you’re aiming to hit 100%, you’re looking at 40 odd hours, and that’s a long time to stay invested in what amounts to a one-joke game you’ve played before. Had it stuck to the Far Cry Blood Dragon mould of 15-odd hours it would have stayed fresh and fun; much like its inspiration, it’s bloated and samey towards the end. On top of the Odyssey comparisons, the style puts you in mind of Zelda, especially Breath of the Wild and it’s nowhere near that. It doesn’t do anything remarkable to deserve hours of play, and there’s three full-length DLCs too. It’s one of those games you have fun free-roaming for a while in, then find yourself sticking to the main plot just to get it done.
There is some clever commentary in there, but it’s often trying to be funny instead of leaving the ridiculous to Greek Mythology itself. Having Gods revealed as indifferent, clumsy or vain is nothing new - and according to the developers, it’s a commentary on social media influencers; what, the Patheon’s acts didn’t provide enough material?!
Ultimately, this is a Fisher-Price Assassin’s Creed. It’s a solid game and a lot of fun, but one of those RPGs you dip in and out of rather than disappear into, there for when you fancy a laugh. It could have gone in a lot of different ways, such as choosing which narrator to follow, position Fenyx as Godlike or Human, or been a pure parody and turned its aim towards the puffy self-importance prevalent in gaming now; or maybe Ubisoft’s self-plagiarising... at least they got in an early joke where Zeus kicks off about certain game’s bloated openers. It would have worked as a parody of what AC’s become. It’s still better than Valhalla though. How do you screw up Vikings!?
It is what it is though, and listening to Prometheus and Zeus bicker and pick holes in Greek Legend is totally worth it. It’s made Greek Mythology accessible too. I used to get all my history lessons from Assassin’s Creed, now I know the Pantheon a little better too. Who says games aren’t educational?